Finnish Weird: Extravaganza from Finland

Frankfurt, 28. July 2014 – Nordic mythology combined with mordacity and a dash of the scary – this characterises the young, somewhat idiosyncratic fantasy literature of Finland, this year’s Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair 2014. Presented as an own literary genre under the label “Finnish Weird”.

While more than 150 years ago literature in Germany was at its peak with classical authors such as Goethe and Schiller, Finnish literature was still in its infancy. For example, whereas Goethe achieved broad cultural acceptance for his astonishing Faust – and is now considered as a representative of great literature – stories with unrealistic and fantastic content, aimed at adult readers, were immediately classified as fairy tales or escapism in Finland. Their only chance of gaining acceptance in society was, if aliens or ghosts had an appearance in the story and considered children’s literature.

The young Finnish authors aren’t familiar with genre boundaries or writing traditions, due to the comparatively late development of fictional literature. Therefore a whimsical genre mixture of science fiction, fantasy, horror, surrealism and much more arose, which pays tribute to the folklore and myths of Finland. Thus the distinction in different literary genres is considered restrictive and nonessential by many Finnish authors.

According to the Scandinavian crime stories – marked as “Nordic Noir” – the Finnish science fiction and fantasy author Johanna Sinisalo created the label “Finnish Weird” in 2010 in order to give this bizarre mix of fantastical genre elements in Finnish literature its own name.

“Finnish Weird” can be, in some respects, compared to the Anglo-American term “Speculative Fiction”. Johanna Sinisalo’s Book Troll: A Love story, published in Finland in 2000, is said to be a stylistic prime example for “Finnish Weird” and for this reason led to a boom of fictional stories. Since then, more and more readers have been discovering and enjoying this sort of strange literature, which is based on a bizarre potpourri and is combined as “Finnish Weird”.

The stories told in “Finnish Weird” often set in realistic environments, but are in some way bizarre in their quirky twists so that they differ clearly from the traditional narration. “Fantastic characters, Nordic mythology, legends and bizarre storytelling form the most important elements of this fictitious literature – totally ‘Finnish Weird’”, states Maria Antas, expert for literature and head of the literary program Finnland.Cool. – Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair 2014.

Johanna Sinisalo arranges “Finnish Weird” as a union of Nordic mythology, references to established Finnish literature and biting sarcasm. Faithful to the diversity of literary genres the plot is prominent in her works. Nature is a frequent motif and the preferred setting for the action, where many Finns seek relaxation and recovery from a stressful daily routine, “Finnish
Weird” inverts this function and the natural protective barrier gets a mystic as well as subtly threatening and foreboding atmosphere.

Analogical “weird” is Emmi Itäranta’s novel Memory of Water. Due to a water shortage the protagonist Noria flees into a cavern where she finds a secret spring. Subsequently this rescuing of this natural treasure metaphorically becomes a serious threat to the little girl. “One of the most important tasks of fiction is, to show the world in a whole new light”, says Itäranta, whose bestseller Memory of Water was published in Finland in 2011.

Even writers who have yet to incorporate write anything fantastic or fictional into their books are increasing including more mystical and fantastic elements. Alongside the disappearing genre boundaries, the older and new styles of writing are forming a symbiosis, which break the former traditional patterns. In addition the weighting and selection of genre aspects enables the authors to compose their stories without limits. Miikko Oikkonen and Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen are promising writers of this unique and fresh genre. Together with Emmi Itäranta and Johanna Sinisalo these two are introducing “Finnish Weird” at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 and are accompany the public on a rollercoaster ride through the fantastical genre from the quills of unique authors.